“Just crest the hill, take your feet off the pedals and let the car do the rest”.
As our off-road instructor Ian explained how the SsangYong Rexton’s hill descent control system would stop momentum sending us hurtling into a tree, he made it sound so easy.
However, trusting a car you’ve never driven before, on a muddy 20-degree slope peppered with logs, tree roots, boulders and shrubs is anything but. My stomach tightened and my heartbeat picked up pace as I planted my foot to the floor, the pedals redundant in front of me, fully expecting gravity to send our party and 2.1 tonnes of SUV careening beyond the precipice and into the forest below.
The system worked brilliantly though, as did the low-range gearbox and 360-degree camera system as we tested the capabilities of the face-lifted SsangYong Rexton across a series of purpose built-off-road trails on the picturesque Graythwaite estate, near Lake Windermere.
The previous day, yellow Met Office warnings advised against travel, Lake Ullswater threatened to reclaim sections of the A592, gale-force winds howled and debris littered the Kirkstone pass as we journeyed south.
Cancelling the drive day was never on the cards though. While a week’s worth of rain in 24 hours, just seven days after Storm Dennis brought widespread flooding, might have been the last thing the people of the Lake District needed - it helped create a truly challenging environment in which to put Korean manufacturer SsangYong’s competitor to the Toyota Landcruiser through its paces.
Driving the SsangYong Rexton
The Rexton, SsangYong’s flagship model, might be the brand's most refined and best looking model, but it’s also a car built to handle some rough treatment, with a ladder-frame chassis and a claimed best-in-class approach angle of 20.5 degrees and a departure angle of 22 degrees. Despite some high and sharp looking obstacles, I managed to avoid ripping the bumpers off during our off-road trial.
With an old-school, selectable four-wheel drive system and a low-range gearbox, the Rexton is a capable car. Most of the time on the road, though, you’ll drive in two-wheel drive mode, when primary power is directed through the rear wheels, with the front wheels automatically coming in to play part-time when extra traction is needed.
Our test vehicle had a smooth, seven-speed Mercedes Benz-sourced automatic transmission, double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension and the handling on the road sections of our drive was rather good.
The ride proved to be a little jittery over some road surfaces, but overall refinement was impressive, with very little noise from the 2.2-litre engine, which delivers its 179bhp smoothly.
With 309 lb/ft torque and a strong ladder-frame chassis the Rexton should make a reliable towing platform for caravans, trailers and horseboxes up to 3,500kg.
Looks, build and specification
Externally the new Rexton has a revised front grille, new 18-inch alloy wheels and redesigned LED light clusters.
The interior feels well built and modern. It’s designed to a price, but the designers have done a decent job of material selection. It doesn’t rival a modern Discovery or XC90, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a budget car.
And our ‘Ultimate’ trim test car was extremely well equipped, with everything from 3D around-view monitoring system to aid with parking (or negotiating craggy gullies), to a smart automatic tailgate system, quilted, heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats and a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment and navigation system.
We drove a five-seater version, but the Rexton is also available in seven-seat configuration. The luggage capacity of the five-seat model is huge. With 1,977-litres of storage with the seats down and 820 litres in the boot with the seats up - that’s 160 litres more than the Kia Sorento.
The Rexton starts at a whisker under £30,000 new and tops out at just under £40,000 in Ultimate trim with seven seats.
That price bracket, paired with robust build, decent comfort and genuine off-road capability makes the Rexton a competitive alternative to models like the Toyota Land Cruiser or the Mitsubishi Shogun Sport.
SssangYong might not yet have the brand recognition in the UK of Japanese brands like Toyota and Mitsubishi, but its dealer network is growing at pace and, like other Korean manufacturers it offers a seven-year, 150,000-mile warranty with its cars.
If the new Rexton is any sign, then it’s only a matter of time before we see more SsangYong models on - and off - our roads in the UK.
SsangYong Rexton Ultimate 5-seater
Price: £39,495 otr
Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Torque: 309 lb/ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Top speed: 115mph
0-62mph: not published
Economy: 34.4 mpg combined
CO2 emissions: 227 g/km combined